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Failed RFP process sees Laurentian select firm to review university operations, governance

Submitted proposals came from companies that ‘weren't appropriate, either didn't have the experience or potentially had conflict or independence issues’ says redevelopment officer, which Laurentian a window to approach others directly
The Parker Building at Laurentian University.

Laurentian University says its efforts to seek bidders to conduct a governance and operational review of the school as part of insolvency proceedings failed because the three firms that bid either weren’t qualified or had possible conflict or independence issues.

Laurentian Senate was provided this update during its Oct. 19 meeting, that also saw the approval of two new graduate programs. 

Lou Pagnutti, the chief redevelopment officer (CRO), provided the update on the hiring of a firm to complete the governance and operations review as part of Phase 2 of the CCAA process. 

Pagnutti was appointed by the court in May as an independent party on a temporary basis to assist Laurentian in its restructuring efforts. Pagnutti also oversees the governance review that was a term of the agreement entered into by Laurentian University and the Laurentian University Faculty Association during the CCAA process.

That governance and operations review was the focus of Pagnutti’s update to the senate. In the questions following his update, he noted that the review would be made public, but also acknowledged that the report would not contain information related to accountability or the decision-making that put the university in financial straits. 

Pagnutti spoke to the hiring of Nous Group (pronounced as in ‘mouse’) as the firm that has been engaged to perform the review. After the RFP process, initiated in early August, had finished, Pagnutti said the three firms that bid during the process either did not offer enough experience, or had a possible conflict of interest. 

“We reviewed them in conjunction with the university and concluded that the parties that had proposed weren't appropriate, either didn't have the experience or potentially had conflict or independence issues,” said Pagnutti. 

While it was unfortunate the RFP process was unsuccessful, he said, “it gave us the opportunity to reach out directly to a number of very qualified organizations, firms that could conduct the review. And we did that and we narrowed it to two organizations, and then concluded that the appropriate firm to do the work would be Nous.” 

An Australian firm, Pagnutti told the senate the company has worked in the UK and in Canada. With a focus on higher education, the firm has previously worked with University of Ottawa, York, University of Calgary, Arizona State. Pagnutti said that offered Laurentian “benchmarking data” as a benefit from a firm that has done work around the globe. 

“A highly-qualified firm of consultants that are focused exclusively on this sector,” said Pagnutti. “They have a very credible team, they have their own intellectual property, which will be of benefit. They had a very capable team with relevant experience in the Canadian marketplace, and their proposal was very, very fair as well.” 

Pagnutti said the Nous-led review has already commenced and that consultation with “stakeholders,'' clarified later by Pagnutti as “management, senate and the board of governors,” will be an examination of policies and procedures as well as aspects of finance, technology, human resources and legal issues.

“The objective of the review and the recommendations would be to make sure that the appropriate governance frameworks are in place at both the board and the Senate, and that they're consistent with other comparable post secondary organizations,” said Pagnutti. “Now, clearly, if there are best practices in place now, then they will be embraced and highlighted. So … the objective isn't to make change for the sake of change, it's to look at what is functioning well at both the board and the senate now, and what needs improvement, if anything needs improvement.”

As for the selling of assets, Pagnutti said the review would look at alternate uses for buildings before selling them off, as well as other ways to make the university more efficient, but also said he did not see the university getting rid of the greenspace so beloved by the community. Though he did not officially confirm, he did note that even zoning issues would make selling the space difficult.  

Over the next three weeks, said Pagnutti, Nous will be interviewing and consulting with stakeholders and in the following four weeks, develop a series of recommendations.

“We expect a report sometime by the middle of December, which will help guide the path forward,” said Pagnutti, though he clarified that it will not be an action plan that can be implemented “overnight.” 

“It's not realistic to assume that by the middle of December, we would have an action plan that can be implemented overnight, but they will chart a course or a path for changes that should be made,” he said. 

Though he said he recognized the weight on the executive and staff of a university in flux, “it's critically important that all of this get done in that timeframe. There will be a consultation process and an outreach to make sure that input is provided, and all the facts are known before recommendations are made.”

And though there was deep discussion about the trouble approving new programs in the face of an ongoing CCAA process, two graduate programs were approved: a Masters in Health Administration as well as a Masters in interdisciplinaire en études relationnelles. 

Many senators took issue with both the fact that the presentations were generated before the CCAA process began and out of fear that the resources would not be available to facilitate those programs, especially in light of the recent layoffs and added pressure on current faculty and staff. 

A motion was presented to send the motion for the Masters in Health Administration back to the Academic Planning Committee of Senate (ACAPLAN) for referral, but that motion was defeated in a draw (no abstentions, 17 opposed, 17 in favour; senate bylaw states a draw means a defeat.) Both programs were approved by the senate.


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Jenny Lamothe

About the Author: Jenny Lamothe

Jenny Lamothe is a reporter with She covers the diverse communities of Sudbury, especially the vulnerable or marginalized.
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